How SA Entrepreneurs Grew A Backyard Fynbos Nursery Into A Thriving Business

How SA Entrepreneurs Grew A Backyard Fynbos Nursery Into A Thriving Business

What started out as a part-time activity growing fynbos for extra cash in a South African back yard has become a thriving, 100-percent black-owned business for Jacqueline “Jacky” Goliath and Elton Jefthas.

The two entrepreneurs started out with just 1,000 plants — cyclopia (honeybush), coleonema (sunset gold or breath of heaven) and phylica. As demand grew for more indigenous fynbos and water-wise plants, the nursery grew. The whole operation moved in 2005 to larger rented land, then moved again. And again. In 2012, the nursery expanded to include plums and other fruits destined for export.

Today, De Fynne Nursery in South Africa’s Western Cape employs 22 permanent workers who produce indigenous potted plants, fruit trees, and other ornamentals for the local horticultural and agricultural industry.

Fynbos, an Afrikaans word meaning “fine bush,” comprises 80 percent of the Cape Floral Kingdom — one of six plant kingdoms on the planet. It is characterized by its large diversity of species, including rare ones that have disappeared in the wild.

Fynbos at Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town. Photo: Dana Sanchez
Fynbos at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town. Photo: Dana Sanchez

Fynbos is concentrated mainly in the Western Cape. It includes such commonly known plants as proteas and ericas as well as hybrids common to gardeners such as daisies, freesias, gladioli, lilies and irises, according to the South African Flower Export Council.

One of the best known fynbos species is the king protea, South Africa’s national flower. Some fynbos inspire perfume scents such as the Estee Lauder fragrance, “Beyond Paradise.” Fynbos species such as as rooibos and honeybush are used in tea production.

King protea, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town. Photo: Dana sanchez
King protea, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town. Photo: Dana sanchez

There is a strong demand for South African floriculture worldwide, according to the nonprofit Cape Flora SA. Germany, the U.K., Japan, and the Netherlands represent the greatest opportunities for exports.

South African floriculture industry employs 17,500 people and has the potential to develop into a significant player on the international stage, says Cape Flora. Obviously, Jefthas and Goliath are on to something.

The De Fynne nursery supplies major retailers such as as Woolworths, Massmart, Stodels, and Spar in South Africa as well as landscapers, commercial farmers and wine estates.

Jacky Goliath talked to AFKInsider about doing business in South Africa’s horticulture and agriculture sectors.

AFKInsider: Why did you start the nursery?

Jacky Goliath: In 1999 both I and Elton Jefthas worked at the ARC (Agricultural Research council, a South African government organization) and this where we got our experience on working with fynbos, indigenous plants as well as research material. In 2001 while working at the (non-government organization) Agribusiness in Sustainable Natural African Plant Products, we started part time in Elton’s backyard with only 1,000 plants as an extra income.

AFKInsider: How did you fund the nursery when it started?

Jacky Goliath: It was done by both of us. None of us have wealthy families. So everything — the expenses of potting soil, pots, bags, fertilizers, and wages for workers — was covered by either myself and Elton. We would use our monthly wages and savings.

AFKInsider: You and Elton Jefthas began the nursery together?

Jacky Goliath: Yes, we studied and worked together for years and are friends. The business belongs to both of us with each having 50 percent shares. It was a combined decision to start the business. Especially because we had the experience on working with fynbos plants, and the Western Cape was (becoming) more aware of water-wise plants, which fits the criteria of fynbos.

AFKInsider: What do you grow?

Jacky Goliath: We are a wholesale nursery which grows containerized ornamental plants,  fynbos and indigenous plants, fruited plants like granadilla (passion fruit), blueberries, figs, olives, citrus, tomatoes and strawberries for the horticultural industry. We also grow for the agricultural industry and grow seedlings or plants on contract for the commercial agricultural market. We also grow and nurse research material for research institutions on contract. This would include apple, pears, kiwi, grapes, and figs. We also do the hardening off and growing on of tissue culture plants.

On the farm we also have about 12 hectares of plums. These plums are harvested between November and March and sent to a packing facility where they are packed and being exported.

Cultivating success in the plant industry
De Fynne Nursery, Western Cape. Photo: smesouthafrica

AFKInsider: What have been some of the challenges you have faced?

Jacky Goliath: Some of the challenges that we had entail being an upcoming small black business to compete against bigger commercial companies. Though we did not have quantity of stock, we had quality to offer. We also showed that we were consistent in the process of doing of business.

Also, some of the areas we rented had limited water and limited us to expand the businesses. We had to move to new premises.

For a fast growing entity, cash flow is always needed. We helped to fill this by diversifying our product range. Being a woman in a very male operated industry (agriculture) was quite a challenge. Just be persistent and present in business and in the relevant industry.

As we are growing with plants, the continuous climate change is a big challenge.

And, taking on a new crop, (growing) the plum hectares was quite a challenge. We employed a consultant to give some guidance.  Sales of the plants were a challenge as we did not have salesperson. We’ve now employed a sales person.

AFKInsider: Is the South African government helpful to new businesses?

Jacky Goliath: Yes, in the form of the Department of Agriculture. Extension officers visit the farm and give advice on the agricultural side of the farm as needed. Grant funding is available and can be applied for. (It) needs to be approved via a presentation of a business plan. Free training and capacity building through the Department of Agriculture is also available.

But advice of  legal issues such as registration process as business, tax and VAT laws, legal documentation should be provided for new and small businesses. It is very difficult to understand and complete. More guidance needs to be offered on this.

AFKInsider: What has been your most important business lesson?

Jacky Goliath: To manage your cash flow successfully. To build relationships within and outside your business.

AFKInsider: What are your goals for 2016?

Jacky Goliath: To expand our fynbos and agricultural nursery production footprint and market share. To make the business more sustainable. To obtain and establish newer varieties of plums. To increase productivity on the farm and  being more effective in our doings.